Empathic Attention; Feeling Into and Intimacy in Contemporary Art Practice

Larkin, Fiona (2018) Empathic Attention; Feeling Into and Intimacy in Contemporary Art Practice. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

Text (Doctoral thesis)
larkin.fiona_phd.pdf - Submitted Version

Download (11MB) | Preview


This research addresses how a practice of making art engages empathic attention. The ideas are arrived at through a studio practice, which is focused on intimate gestures, mirrored responses, and images of a strangers, developed through video, performance to camera and text.

Key thinking lies in the understanding that art has the ability to activate, what I am calling ‘empathic attention’ both in the methods of its making and the reception of the completed work. Empathy is referred to as a sense of ‘feeling into’, coming from the German Einfühlung, ein meaning ‘in’ and Fühlung meaning feeling/to feel. Etymologically speaking, empathy is a type of cognition that offers a penetrating sense of entering into, a type of becoming. The methodological approach has been to pursue intimate encounters, contingent on intersubjectivity, where work can be made. Some of these encounters are located in an exploration of the materials of others, for example an archive of personal letters. Where I have written about encounters with art works I limited myself to those works that I have had first hand experience of, consciously engaging a subjective response.

The aim of this doctoral research has been to establish, with regard to specific contemporary art practices, empathic perception as a particular kind of knowledge located in the provisional, in the oscillating, and the speculative sense within the work of ‘becoming other’. In doing so it engages with phenomenological, aesthetic and experimental methods such as; filming isolated gestures, using the body to mirror actions, exploring details in archival materials and developing discreet installations as a response to them.

Attention and orientation are considered ‘a form of participation’ and as such the research is concerned with generating a particular kind of audience encounter, one that is closer to the experience of ‘alongsideness’ than it is to the form of art practice we recognise as participatory. While the backdrop to the research is implicitly social, being that it’s foundational touchstone is intersubjectivity, it is primarily focused on the one to one experience. Following this line of thought this thesis firmly locates the practice as a bridge to thinking and feeling that is constituted with others. This practice-led approach produces new knowledge in uniquely identifying empathic attention as a methodological approach to making art and also a means to understand our embodied responses to art. This was arrived at through a reframing of the works of two key philosophers, Edith Stein and Vernon Lee. Engaging with these texts, both with and through the practice, offers a new perspective on the work of these two philosophers and frames my artwork in the intersubjective experience that underlines the research.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Fine Art, Affect, Feeling with and feeling into, Empathy and moving image and photography in Fine Art, Vernon Lee and Edith Stein
Subjects: W100 Fine Art
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Arts
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: Paul Burns
Date Deposited: 11 Jul 2019 09:32
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2021 22:33
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/39979

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics